Music bitrate 144kbps on Samsung phone?!?
January 8, 2019 4:47 PM   Subscribe

I listened to a favorite album, a music file, on my Samsung J3 smartphone and it was clearer than I've ever heard it. But I see the file's properties list it as only at 144kbps-!

I usually hear earbud music from ripped CDs which Sansa converts to 320 bitrate, or Cowon plays at lossless. Those are mp3 players. But with the Samsung android phone on Play Music app, I was amazed at the clarity and separation. Whatever -- I'm no tekky but I heard background instruments, etc., I never had before. Yet when I checked the loaded files -- whether synced thru WMPlayer or drag-dropped right into the phone's Music folder, and whether lossless CD rips or mp3s -- I saw all were at 144kbps. I thought that would fairly suck in quality, or if undetectable, at least not seem to blow away the sound of my other players. What gives? Can I get Samsung to go higher in bitrate?
posted by noelpratt2nd to Technology (19 answers total)
I doubt the phone is reencoding all those files. You may be misreading the properties list (maybe you could post a screenshot), or maybe the properties it's displaying are just wrong. Or possibly you're mistaken about the bitrate the files were originally encoded at (how are you checking that?).

Not my area of expertise, but: I don't believe 144kbps is bad, and I wouldn't expect higher bitrates to make that big a difference.

Probably there's something else that's changed between your phone and those mp3 players. Is it possible you're using different earbuds, or just that you have the volume turned up louder?
posted by bfields at 6:55 PM on January 8, 2019

Without a high quality amp and high qualoty headphones or speakers, the difference between 144kbps and lossless etc is mostly placebo, don't buy into audiophile hyperbole.
posted by smoke at 7:01 PM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Not using different buds, no. I've asked myself how I could be seeing this wrong, but I've known how to check bitrate on the "details" tab on Properties for a long time and every device says what it does. I wouldn't be terribly surprise by a trick of the mind here, knowing that at one time I thought all my music sounded great only to find out they were all 128s. And yes, the bitrate of the initial rips is very clear in the original data.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 7:02 PM on January 8, 2019

Okay, so maybe this Samsung is a big sound improvement over dedicated mp3s players from a few year ago. That's what surprises me. The unremastered TUBULAR BELLS 2, by Mike Oldfield, case in point: heard many new things after years of hearing the lossless or CD in all kinds of delivery systems, including Brainwavs M3s, Bose, etc. Something's different...
posted by noelpratt2nd at 7:06 PM on January 8, 2019

My fairly average phone (Motorola G6) has some setting for Dolby Audio on it. So it is possible that one of your Samsung's special features is better audio.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:15 PM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

heard many new things

Sounds like you’re hearing artifacts, or you’re hearing artifacts of some “upscaling” that your phone is doing to compensate for the low bitrate it’s downsampling to. It’s adding back in details it thinks it has dropped. Think motion smoothing on new TVs taking a 24-per second film up to a super soap-opera-y 120 Hz, something like that.

Even on earbuds I find <160 kbps to be markedly “tinklier” and “whooshier” than >256 kbps.
posted by supercres at 8:02 PM on January 8, 2019

Are you sure it’s not listing them as 1441 kbps and cropping off the 1? (1441 is the bitrate of a 44KHz stereo 16 bit PCM stream, eg a CD, and would be likely the native format of your phone’s DAC.)
posted by neustile at 5:00 AM on January 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Okay, now this is hugely interesting. Never heard of artifacts -- is it real stuff "deep in the groove," so to speak? It's not random, it does seem musical and like it would be there as part of the composition. Like background instruments. And on the other issue , the phone readings say 144kbps for all types of files -- WMA-Lossless, 320 mp3s, etc., so I thought "Shoot, it's doing the conversion on all files."
posted by noelpratt2nd at 6:30 AM on January 9, 2019

I thought the same thing about cropping the bitrate field, since 144 seemed like an odd number. I misremembered the uncompressed bitrate— it’s 1411 not 1441.
posted by supercres at 6:55 AM on January 9, 2019

You're right supercres, it's 1411 not 1441. Mystery remains!
posted by neustile at 7:04 AM on January 9, 2019

Nothing sounded harsh. Just sounded like the album had a nice remaster. I know nothing about adding back sounds and all. I just thought that these days, with people not much caring about the uality of the music they out and about, it was funny how the smartphone and Play Music would sound better than my Sansa Clips or even the Cowon i9. Sounds more muscular even when not presenting much more detail. It may not end up being my preferred experience, I don't know.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 7:10 AM on January 9, 2019

All other things being equal, louder sounds better - it's a documented issue and one of the reasons professionals mix audio at low volumes. So if the phone's headphone amp is pushing better than your previous devices (which is quite possible), that alone could account for the difference. Better D/A conversion is also possible, as is the "smoothing" mentioned above.

One easy test would be using a different player such as the one built into ES File Explorer - you can also confirm that ES gives you the same information about the file as Samsung's native file manager.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:22 AM on January 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

You're either listening to differently mastered versions of the songs, or your phone is colouring the sound.

Can you extract the files from the phone and play them back in your mp3 players?
posted by Bangaioh at 10:11 AM on January 9, 2019

Okay, now this is hugely interesting. Never heard of artifacts -- is it real stuff "deep in the groove," so to speak?

Here's the Wikipedia page on compression artifacts, with examples of visual compression artifacts that might help you understand the terminology here. The artifacts aren't hidden and uncovered, but created by software trying to simplify the data. There is less information presented, which will alter the sound.

If you really want to get into the details, the sound geeks (and I mean this in the best way) at Sound on Sound have an article on What Data Compression Does To Your Music, including some examples of what heavy compression does to the sound of audio.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:29 AM on January 9, 2019

your phone is colouring the sound

By this I mean the software player in your phone is colouring the sound, not the phone itself.
posted by Bangaioh at 10:48 AM on January 9, 2019

There seem to be two questions at the heart of this post:

Why does the music sound good at what I consider a low bitrate?
The short answer is that modern perceptual audio codecs do very well at compressing stereo audio at low bitrates. Common audiophile rules of thumb for what bitrates are necessary for near-transparent compression tend to be out of date. For example, outside of being a trained professional with a state-of-the-art listening setup or certain types of 'difficult for encoders' signals, it's essentially impossible to hear the difference between 256 kbps and 320 kbps audio with modern codecs. 144 kbps isn't really that low for stereo audio anymore.

Why does the music sound different / better on this device than on others?
Many device OEMs like Samsung license (or implement their own) post processing algorithms which aim to improve the audio quality. These can include equalizers 'tuned' to the device's specific hardware, smart content-based EQs, etc. This may be contributing to the difference in listening experience you're reporting.
posted by Expecto Cilantro at 1:05 PM on January 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sounds more muscular even when not presenting much more detail

aspersioncast: All other things being equal, louder sounds better

I was going to guess that, considering that the audio is presenting itself as 144 kbps, there was also some normalization and boosting going on, akin to loudness war mastering, but the specs say that the Samsung Galaxy J3 can play WAV, WMA, AAC, AMR, MP3, FLAC, XMF, OGG, MIDI, M4A, MXMF, OGA, 3GA, AWB, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, MID

And GSM Arena's review includes serious audio output evaluation with the summary that "Audio output is solid", so I'm now questioning the compression as reported. Unless there's something weird going on at a system level that is compressing audio (which seems odd, unless there's a space-saving option that triggers audio file compression), my current guess is that the files are being mis-identified.

If you want to test a file, import it, the export it and compare file size. If the output is the same, nothing is likely to have changed, but if you want to confirm that, use simple file verification or other CRC32 checksum verification to make sure nothing was modified, comparing before to after.

I'm guessing that audio enhancement is something that would be promoted by Samsung, and I'm not seeing anything, but it might be out there.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:32 PM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

To make all this even more confusing, compression can mean two different things when we're talking about audio files - filesize compression vs. audio compression.

The compression that makes an MP3 smaller than a FLAC is dropping samples and trimming whitespace, whereas audio compression is altering the dynamic range of the sound (at its simplest, turning down the loud bits, which lets you turn everything else up, which is part of how the "loudness wars" happened). A lot of players and playback systems incorporate audio compression/normalization/boosting (as FLT mentions above); "Beats" and Bose notoriously so.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:36 AM on January 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

One easy test would be using a different player such as the one built into ES File Explorer - you can also confirm that ES gives you the same information about the file as Samsung's native file manager.
Thanks, aspersioncast. I compared a couple of files and found that ES says the same as when I look at the Explorer details for something on Samsung. Namely, e.g., one certain music file is reduced from 33.1MB to 12.7MB, and the original ripped bitrate (WMA Lossless) of 889, I can only guess, has been greatly converted down. So maybe 144 is correct and it's all done by the phone no matter the program. A Samsung rep told me by chat (I'm trying to make sense of what seemed like his best guess) that probably that 144kbps is a mistranslated readout, but now I figure maybe not. If the file is reduced in size, so goes the bitrate probably, right? In any case, after reading the Wiki page on artifacts, I find it hard to believe what I heard were those. I know this album like the back of my hand. Same CD for years. Unless the phone automatically did me a favor and grabbed me a spiffy Japanese remaster -- if a remaster exists -- to replace my original.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 4:08 PM on January 10, 2019

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